Less than a week after the heavy prison terms were handed to five leaders of the Linfen House Church in China’s northern Shanxi Province, four female church leaders have now been sent to forced labor camps, according to a Christian rights group monitoring the situation.
In mid-September, nine members of the Shanxi Linfen House Church were arrested while on their way to petition against the destruction of their church buildings and the beatings of church members several days prior, on Sept. 13. Five were sent to jail on Nov. 25 with sentences from three and seven years.
Of the remaining four, Bob Fu, President of ChinaAid, said he was able to confirm through relatives that one of them, Yang Caizhen, was given a sentence of three years on Nov. 29.
Yang’s brother was asked by the authorities to sign a document acknowledging the detention, Fu said.
Forced labor sentences can be handed down directly by police, outside of China’s court system; authorities do not need to present evidence, mount a case, or involve lawyers.
According to Fu, his organization believes that the remaining three also received labor camp terms, but they have not received details yet from family members.
The four women, Yang Caizhen, Yang Hongzhen, Li Shuangping, Su Qing, were preachers at Sunday school and among the main leaders of the Linfen Church, a group of 50,000 that operates in defiance of the Chinese Communist Party’s policies on religious worship. Under the CCP, only churches operating under Party-controlled organs are considered legal.
The women were given administrative sentences of forced labor, rather than being processed through the court system because there was insufficient evidence against them, according to Fu.
“I think they just want to punish them without going through all this presenting evidence and a trial with trumped-up charges,” he said.
When Yang Caizhen’s brother went to visit her before she was sentenced, he saw that one of her teeth had been knocked out. According to Yang’s daughter, Esther, a student in Los Angeles who spoke to Fu about the case, Yang lost the tooth after being beaten by guards.
It is unclear what Yang and the others were charged with.
“That’s one question I didn’t ask the daughter,” Fu said. “Last night, she was crying over the phone when she told me. Especially after she learned her mom was beaten.”